Raclette is not only the name of one of my favorite cheeses, but it is also a way to eat. I should say it could be a way to live, because if I could get away with it, I’d eat this way every day!
My family and I took an extended trip through Eastern France in 2002, and thankfully, we visited Chamonix. It’s a magical and picturesque town, situated at the base of the Alps. One evening we were wandering through town to pick out our dinner spot. And then I smelled it – that undeniable smell of warm, stinky cheese. I followed my nose to a restaurant with outside seating – all woodsy and cozy in the shadow of Mont Blanc. Then I noticed these contraptions on diners’ tables. This is when and where I discovered Raclette. The contraptions were similar to this one, screwed into the wooden tables.
Raclette is a cows’ milk cheese that comes from the Rhones-Alpes region of France which has an inherent viscosity. If you have noticed, hot cheeses can be thin and runny, or barely move at all – like rubber. Melted raclette is perfectly pourable, and extremely delicious.
The verb “racler” in French means “to scrape.” So this is what you do when you raclette (verb): the raclette (noun) melts from a heat source, then you scrape the melted cheese onto your bread or potatoes. Originally, raclette was melted by an actual fire.
After returning home, you can bet I researched raclette, and lo and behold! There were electric raclette makers!!! Not as provincial as sitting around a fire waiting for your blob of melted cheese, but that’s ok. I’m talking about having the most fun you can imagine cooking yourself a dinner that revolves around cheese!!!
This electric raclette maker from Williams Sonoma, is very similar to the three I now own. They are really fun, because you can melt your cheese in the little dishes below, and grill meats and breads on the upper granite slab. Yes, I now own three raclette makers – I mean, the more people, the merrier!
I recently discovered the website Raclette Corner, and you can order not only raclette, but the raclette grills and melters. Sonja, the owner, is Swiss/German, and after moving to South Dakota, she missed raclette so much she started this business! I talked to her recently when she set me up with an expedited shipment of raclette when my original order fell though. What’s especially interesting on her site is the page that tells the history of raclette.
This is a photo of the Swiss raclette I received from Sonja. It’s called a half square, which I’d never heard of before. It was much easier to cut up than round wheel!
So here’s what to do if you want to have a Raclette night, my way. However, keep in mind that there is no “one” way to raclette.
Raclette Menu for 4
4 filet mignons
2-4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt
Raclette, about 2 pounds
1 loaf of bread
Salad toppings such as tomato, mushrooms, and hearts of palm, sliced beets
Vinaigrette of choice
2 large cooked potatoes, sliced into quarters, lengthwise
Begin by slicing the filets about 1/4″ thick and place in a ziploc bag. Whisk together about 1/2 cup of olive oil with your preferred amount of garlic and salt. Add this mixture to the filet slices and let marinate overnight. Before racletting, bring the filets to room temperature.
To set your table to raclette, each person should have a small plate and a small bowl. The electric grill comes with the dishes for the cheese, plus little scrapers. Each person should have at least two cheese dishes, and one scraper.
I also recommend small wooden tongs to pick up the cheese, as well as for other goodies you’re going to have on the table.
Cut up the Raclette (cheese) into about 2″ squares, about 3/8″ thick. Place on a plate and set on the table. It’s hard to estimate how much people will eat, but in my experience, it’s more than you’re think!
Slice the bread into 1/4″ slices; place in a bowl or basket and set on the table. I like to have some olive oil in a squeeze bottle to add to the top of the grill for toasting the bread. Even better if it’s garlic oil!
Divide the salad greens into four bowls. Divide the salad toppings between the salads. Put these bowls next to the plates already on the table.
Divide the quartered potatoes among the plates and have the vinaigrette on the table.
Place the cornichons and onions in a bowl on the table.
The electric raclette maker goes in the middle of the table. One raclette maker will easily work for four people at a square table.
Turn on the raclette. Give it a good 15 minutes to heat up properly.
Place a piece of cheese in a dish to start the melting process. Place a piece or two of the marinated beef on the top to grill.
Add some vinaigrette to your salad, and help yourself to the cornichons and pickled onions. As the bread grills, place it on the plate. Using the scraper, scrape the cheese out of the dish and onto the bread.
Add the filets to your salad, or place on top of the cheese.
And make sure to put cheese on the potatoes!